Ann Meara

  • Born: September 20, 1929
  • Died: May 23, 2015
  • Location: Los Angeles, California


In this Nov. 6, 2003, file photo, Jerry Stiller, left, and his wife Anne Meara pose on the set of "The King of Queens," at Sony Studio in Culver City, Calif. Meara, whose comic work with Stiller helped launch a 60-year career in film and TV, has died. She was 85. Jerry Stiller and son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)

Actress, mom of Ben Stiller dies

By SANDY COHEN and FRAZIER MOORE, The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anne Meara, the loopy, lovable comedian who launched a standup career with husband Jerry Stiller in the 1950s and found success as an actress in films, on TV and the stage, has died.

Jerry Stiller and son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday. She was 85. No other details were provided.

The Stiller family released a statement to The Associated Press on Sunday describing Jerry Stiller as Meara's "husband and partner in life."

"The two were married for 61 years and worked together almost as long," the statement said.

Born in Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1929, she was a red-haired, Irish-Catholic girl who struck a vivid contrast to Stiller, a Jewish guy from Manhattan's Lower East Side who was two years older and four inches shorter.

As Stiller and Meara, they appeared in comedy routines that joked about married life and their respective ethnic backgrounds. They logged 36 appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and were a successful team in Las Vegas, major nightclubs, on records and in commercials (scoring big for Blue Nun wine with their sketches on radio).

They were beloved New Yorkers, well known to their Upper West Side neighbors. The marriage lasted, but the act was dissolved in the 1970s as Meara resumed the acting career she had originally sought. She appeared in such films as "The Out-of-Towners," ''Fame," ''Awakenings" and, directed by her son, "Reality Bites."

Meara was twice nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role on "Archie Bunker's Place," along with two other Emmy nods, most recently in 1997 for her guest-starring role on "Homicide." She won a Writers Guild Award for co-writing the 1983 TV movie "The Other Woman."

She also appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including a longtime role on "All My Children" and appearances on "Rhoda," ''Alf" and "The King of Queens." She shared the screen with her son in 2006's "Night at the Museum."

Meara also had a recurring role on CBS' "Murphy Brown" and on HBO's "Sex and the City." In 1975, she starred in CBS' "Kate McShane," which, though short-lived, had the distinction of being the first network drama to feature a woman lawyer.

She made her off-Broadway debut in 1971 in John Guare's award-winning play "The House of Blue Leaves." A quarter-century later, she made her off-Broadway bow as a playwright with her comedy-drama, "After-Play."

Meara was an aspiring 23-year-old actress in 1953 when she responded to a "cattle call" by a New York agent casting for summer stock. After the agent chased her around his office, she burst into the waiting room, crying and out of breath, where she found Stiller, a fellow out-of-work actor then 25.

"I took her out for coffee," Stiller recalled decades later for The Associated Press. "She seemed to sense I had no money, so she just ordered coffee. Then she took all the silverware. I picked up her check for 10 cents and thought, 'This is a girl I'd like to hang out with.'"

Within a few months, they were wed.

But this was a mixed marriage — referring to their respective families, Meara said, "Nobody was thrilled when we got married, absolutely nobody." But they accepted it, she added with perfect comic timing: "Nobody sat shiva."

Despite her theater background, Meara, with her bright eyes and cheeky smile, was a quick study as a comedian when she and Stiller performed in improv groups. Her ability to adapt was all the more remarkable since, back then, "I was down on comedians. Growing up, I loved drama and fantasies. I hated the Marx Brothers. I took all that confusion seriously."

The couple had an old-fashioned appeal not unlike that of Burns and Allen, but Stiller and Meara were thick into the 1950s Beat Generation, an edgy, innovative arts scene based in New York's Greenwich Village, where they had an apartment. "But WE thought that when the Village was REALLY happening was in the '20s, the F. Scott Fitzgerald days, before our time," she said. "People never know what's going on while it's happening. You think, during the Renaissance, people called it 'The Renaissance'?"

The husband-and-wife act was born of desperation shortly after the birth of their first child, Amy, in 1961. There still was insufficient work in legitimate theater, and improv wasn't paying the bills.

As Stiller and Meara, they drew on their own lives and the world they saw around them for laughs. They created routines and began touring, as well as landing gigs in New York clubs and coffee houses.

Then, in 1963, Stiller and Meara struck gold. They snagged a booking on "The Ed Sullivan Show," CBS' top-rated Sunday night variety show.

"He scared the stuff out of me," Meara recalled in a 2010 interview. "I wasn't the only one. There were international favorites from all over the world throwing up in the wings — singers and tenors and guys who spin plates. It was live. We were scared!"

But that initial "Sullivan" appearance made them stars, and during the next decade they made 35 more. In one routine, which Stiller considered "a breakthrough," they played two single people (a Jewish lad and Catholic gal) matched by a computer — and discovering what, in those days, were the sort of problematic differences they had surmounted in real life:

Jerry: "You have a lot of sisters?"

Anne: "I got plenty of sisters: Sister Mary Monica, Sister Bernadette Marie, Sister Mary Virginia. Do you have any brothers?"

Jerry: "Buch, Bujie and Sol."

Then quickly the pair realize they have plenty in common: They live on the same New York City block, and both love to dance. They decide to go dancing.

Anne (approvingly): "This computer, it really ..."

Jerry: "Oh yeah, it really did a job on us there, didn't it?"

In 2010, the pair reunited on-screen for "Stiller & Meara: A Show About Everything," a chatty Web series produced by their son and shot in their longtime home on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Their off-the-cuff banter was informed by their lifetime partnership:

Mearer: "You know there's a new movie coming out about the guy who invented Facebook?"

Stiller: "Somebody INVENTED Facebook? What kind of a person would that be?"

Meara: "A person who is very bright, and figured a lot of people want to share the mundane, miserable moments of their lives with other people: 'I'm your friend, and I just came back from going to the john. I thought you'd want to know.'"

Not for the first time, Stiller flinched at her words, while any viewer had to laugh.

Besides her husband and son, Meara is survived by her daughter, Amy, and several grandchildren.

The family statement said: "Anne's memory lives on in the hearts of daughter Amy, son Ben, her grandchildren, her extended family and friends, and the millions she entertained as an actress, writer and comedienne."


Moore reported from New York.

Condolence & Memory Journal

I also for got too say she was a wonderful Woman she was I too was a Fan. My Mother & Father told us about the 2 great couple on the Ed Sullivan Show my our Parents couldn't stop talking about them. Well I even watch them when I was young too.

Posted by M - T, AZ   March 28, 2016

for Ben Amy Jerry & Family. I am doing this out of love for sweet Ann shuch a lovely woman mines me of my Mother also in deed. I too have a lovely Mother she's very old ! Her own Mother never loved her Her own Mother even wished she never was born. That's how my Mother end up that way. Well my Prayers too you all. ;-(((((( ;-(((((

Posted by M - T, AZ   March 28, 2016

My sincere sympathies to the stiller family. May God the Hearer of prayer bring you peace and comfort during this difficult time.(Isaiah51:12)

Posted by louise morgan - Cumming, GA   November 06, 2015


It isn't easy when you loose a very special person in your life.rather old or young.we will meet a very special special way.Ann was a very beautiful.funny .person.even thio she is gone keep smiling.My prayers are with you all.god bless you all.

Posted by Carolyn mock - Newport, RI - A fan   August 03, 2015

I am grateful to the unrivese to have had the spirit and soul of Gil Scott-Heron for as long as we did. As long as we speak his name he will never be forgotten. Whenever, I hear your voice, your music my heart smiles. I LOVE YOU and welcome your spirit as I meditate and pray. I will see you next lifetime.

Posted by Kameshwar - HahOfx964di - shqNcrH3qU   July 05, 2015


Ann Meara what a wonderful funny lady. Her husband and son and her seemed to be a joyous family. They all loved life you could tell. She left a wonderful legacy. My sincere love to her family.

Posted by Carol lane - Indianapolis, IN   June 27, 2015

Dear Melanie and Alford,I was sorry to read of your mother's psasing. I know it was expected, but it is still a shock in its finality.May the good memories from earlier years bring you comfort as you experience both relief and sadness in the days ahead. Melanie, you were a wonderful, loving daughter who cared for your mother as we are commanded to do. I hope you take solace in your faithfulness until the end.Blessings,Judy

Posted by Jasmine - EotAThcb, WI - 7tW1BTld   June 13, 2015


Both my son and I had the pleasure working with her. Not only a tremendous acting/comic/writing talent, but a kind, gentle, and sensitive soul. She will be sorely missed. Marnie Winston-Macauley, writer, and Simon Macauley

Posted by MARNIE WINSTON MACAULEY - Las Vegas, NV - acquaintance   June 06, 2015

I am sorry for your loss. I am a fan that totally enjoy your mom career! i took the time last year to search out her performances on Youtube and it created so much joy and happiness for me. In dealing with the loss of my mother i learned something that you may be experiencing. Alone in a crowd. Everyone expressing sorrow for you and love they had for your mom.. the crowd. You learning to deal with your sorrow and loss... alone. No matter what anyone says the pain does not lessen you get stronger. The only problem with getting stronger is that there are occasions when you get weak. Isaiah chapter 41 verse 10 says: Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be anxious, for I am your God. I will fortify you, yes I will help you. I will really hold on to you with my right hand of righteousness. These words help me on my weak days I hope they can help during this time of distress and in the future.

Posted by Gail Galloway - Pittsburgh, PA - fan   May 27, 2015

We are so sorry for your loss. The Harris family would like to offer our condolences to the entire Stiller family. The man Job suffered great loss in his lifetime but at Job 14:14 he asked the question " If a man dies, can he live again? " We look forward to a time when Ann will once again fill the world with laughter. We are so sorry for your loss.

Posted by Damon - Atlanta, GA - fan   May 27, 2015


Thank you for the laughter and memories. The Schuh's, Indiana

Posted by penny schuh - West Harrison, IN - not   May 26, 2015


I am very sorry to hear of the loss of, Mrs. Meara. With all her accomplishments, she was an amazing woman! I won't pretend to know what you're going through, but what has helped me deal with the loss of those I love is turning to the Scriptures, something that has been a real source of comfort. One Scripture that gives me hope is John 11:25, which says, " Jesus said to her: I am the resurrection and the life. The one who exercises faith in me, even though he dies, will come to life." I hope that this verse will also comfort you and, I hope you and your family can get through this difficult time. Please accept my condolences for the loss of your beloved wife, mother, grandma and friend. Sincerely, Meryl

Posted by Meryl - Chapel Hill, NC - Community Volunteer   May 26, 2015

Watching Ed Sullivan was not complete until we saw the comedy antics of Stiller & Meara. Their act continued through all generations as they appeared on current T.V. shows doing the same shtick. Their legacy is carried on by their talented son Ben, who honors them by being the same caliber as they are. Sorry I did not work with them. Would have been laughing all the time.

Posted by Anne-Marie Henderson - Los Angeles/ Cape Coral FL, FL   May 26, 2015

Such a lost to the entertainment industry. The laughter, fun, the joy will be missed. Words of comfort are found at Isaiah 25:8..." He will swallow up death forever, And the Sovereign Lord Jehovah will wipe away the tears from all faces."

Posted by T.S., Little - grand rapids, MI - fan   May 26, 2015

My deepest sympathy to the Stiller family.
I loved Ann as well as Jerry and Ben.
Ann brought a lot of laughs to all.
You will be missed by all.

Posted by Eileen Maue - McAdoo, PA - A fan of the family   May 25, 2015

Thank you for all the laughter you have brought into my life at the darkest times. You will be missed everyday!

Posted by Debra Bishop - chico, CA - Fan of the family   May 25, 2015

This certainly took me by surprise. To help endure this John 6:40 tells us of a wonderful promise soon to come. My heart goes out to the family, friends and fans.

Posted by M.B. - Tyler   May 25, 2015

This woman has brought many smiles to millions of people throughout the years. I've loved her (and Jerry) since first seeing them on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was young! Rest in peace knowing your work is done and you did it well. My condolences to Jerry and the rest of the family. She was loved by many and will be missed by millions.

Posted by Ruthie Brown - Central City, KY - Fan   May 25, 2015


We will love you forever, Ann. Peace to your family.

Posted by Lori Phillips - Pella, IA - fan of the whole family   May 25, 2015

Much sadness in my heart today. i grew up watching meara and stiller as well as ben. my thoughts and condolences. to the family. she will be greatly missed,.

Posted by Stephanie wing - Rochester, MN - admirer of great comedy   May 25, 2015

Family Album

In this Nov. 6, 2003, file photo, Jerry Stiller, left, and his wife Anne Meara pose on the set of "The King of Queens," at Sony Studio in Culver City, Calif. Meara, whose comic work with Stiller helped launch a 60-year career in film and TV, has died. She was 85. Jerry Stiller and son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Stefano Paltera, File)
In Oct. 7, 2008, file photo, from left, Actors Anne Meara, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor and Jerry Stiller attend the 11th Annual Project A.L.S. "Tomorrow is Tonight" benefit gala in New York. Meara, whose comic work with husband Jerry Stiller helped launch a 60-year career in film and TV, has died. She was 85. Jerry Stiller and his son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer, File)
In this March 17, 2009, file photo, Jerry Stiller, left, and Anne Meara arrive at the premiere of "I Love You, Man" in Los Angeles. Meara, whose comic work with husband Jerry Stiller helped launch a 60-year career in film and TV, has died. She was 85. Jerry Stiller and son Ben Stiller say Meara died Saturday, May 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)